On Match Win Percentages and the State of Post-Ban Ramunap—er, Mono-Red

Over the course of the last 12 months, 9 cards were banned in Standard. In the 10 years before that, only 2 cards got the axe. Hopefully, the new Play Design team will give us another 10 good years of Standard.

Although I dislike bans in general, Ian Duke’s article explaining the bans was excellent. As Paulo Vitor said, “it was thorough, transparent, and made a lot of sense. If we must have bans, this is the type of article I want explaining them.”

Ian Duke justified the bans with matchup data gathered from Magic Online Competitive Leagues. These charts were insightful, grouping Temur Energy together with Temur Black, but they also prompted some questions at my local store.

How can these match win percentage be accurate?

You might wonder how the match win percentage against Ramunap Red can be 53.4% when the game 1 win percentage is far lower at 48.8% and the game 2+ win percentage is only slightly higher than the match win percentage at 53.7%. Even more strangely, how can the match win percentage against Sultai Snake be higher than both the game 1 and the game 2+ percentages? Shouldn’t it be a weighted average of the two numbers?

Well, there are two factors at work here:

The game 2+ percentage is always more impactful. You play more post-board games than pre-board games, so your post-board percentage has a larger influence on your overall probability of winning a match. In an extreme case: If you would be 0% to win game 1, then you can still be a favorite to win the overall match if your game 2 win percentage is at least 71% (the rounded square root of 0.5). Conversely, if your pre-board matchup is 70%, then you still need more than 40% post-board to be a favorite to win the match. So when building competitive decks, you’re best off focusing on post-board games. In fact, Temur Energy’s ability to reconfigure and improve after sideboard, which is typical for midrange decks, was one of the major reasons why it had such strong matchups across the field.

Match win percentages amplify small edges. If you have a 60% chance to win any individual game, then the probability of winning a best-2-out-of-3 is higher than 60%. The intuition behind this is the same as when each member of the Peach Garden Oath might win an individual Day 2 match 60% of the time but their team as a whole is 64.8% to win the round. In general, when you have a probability P of winning a pre-board game and a probability Q of winning a post-board game and there are no play-draw dependencies, then your probability of winning a match is the sum of:

  • P*Q, the probability of winning game 1 and game 2
  • P*(1-Q)*Q, the probability of winning game 1, losing game 2, and winning game 3
  • (1-P)*Q*Q, the probability of losing game 1, winning game 2, and winning game 3

Somewhat surprisingly, if we plug in the game 1 and game 2+ numbers against Ramunap Red into this formula, then we end up with a match win percentage of 53.1%. This differs from the 53.4% in the chart. But once again, there is a perfectly reasonable explanation: It’s a combination of play-draw dependencies and resulting bias in the observation. The impact is tiny, but it can easily account for that 0.3% difference.

I introduced the more complicated formula for match win probabilities under play-draw dependencies here. What I didn’t treat in that article is the bias that may arise when you gather data on Magic Online. Suppose, as a thought experiment, that you always win game 1. Post-board, you always win on the draw and lose on the play. Assume that your foolish opponent, after losing game 1, always chooses to play first. Then you would always win the match 2-0 and observe a post-board win percentage of 100% in the data, even if the actual percentage averaged over play and draw is 50%.

Along similar lines, if Temur Energy’s win percentages against Ramunap Red were 48.8% for game 1, 40.0% for game 2 on the draw, and 68.0% for game 2 on the play, then the resulting match win percentage would be 53.4% and the observed game 2+ percentage would be 53.7%, in line with the data Ian Duke provided.

Where does Ramunap Red go after the bans?

Now that we know the 0.3% discrepancy isn’t something to worry about, let’s turn to the Standard metagame. The bans haven’t touched The Scarab God, Approach of the Second Sun, Hidden Stockpile, or God-Pharaoh’s Gift, so these win conditions aren’t going anywhere (and they no longer have to worry about Rampaging Ferocidon). The energy mechanic remains available as well—the collection of Aether Hub, Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, Harnessed Lightning, and Whirler Virtuoso have already spawned a Grixis Energy deck. Meanwhile, key Rivals of Ixalan additions like Jadelight Ranger and Rekindling Phoenix have started to find a home in midrange decks, while tribal payoff cards like Merfolk Mistbinder enable new archetypes.

But I prefer red aggro decks. I played Mardu Vehicles throughout the 2016-2017 premier play season, switching to Ramunap Red after the loss of Foundry Inspector. But where should we go next after the ban of Ramunap Ruins and Rampaging Ferocidon? If I desire at least 8 red 1-drops, at least 3 Hazoret the Fervent, and a smattering of burn spells, what options do I have in the new Standard?

I dug into last week’s deck lists from Magic Online and other events to find out.


Fnoop, 9-0 at the Magic Online Standard PTQ

This list is close to how Ramunap Red was played at the 2017 World Championship, with Ramunap Ruins replaced by Mountain in the main deck and Rampaging Ferocidon replaced by Sweltering Suns in the sideboard. Solid, clean, nothing wrong with it. Well, except that we have to look for a new deck name, as “Ramunap Red” won’t work anymore. I’ve seen suggestions for HazoRed, but that doesn’t quite work in spoken conversation. I prefer Mono-Red.

But you don’t have to stay mono-color. The main reason for staying mono-color was the synergy between Sunscorched Desert and Ramunap Ruins, which could make your opponent effectively start at 15 life. Now that you can no longer sacrifice Sunscorched Desert to Ramunap Ruins, you might as well replace the colorless land with a colored land of another color and explore new options.

Mettle Red

TYHENDO, 5-0 in a Competitive Standard League on January 16

This list has 11 white sources for 3 Path of Mettle and 3 Relentless Raptor. You sometimes lose a free Sunscorched Desert ping compared to the mono-red version, but the increase in card quality may be worth it. Path of Mettle in particular should transform rapidly as every single creature in the deck satisfies the keyword soup requirement. (Apparently, all keywords are associated with speed to capture the flavor of making it through a series of traps, but I wasn’t able to guess that by looking at the card.) Once you transform into Metzali, Tower of Triumph, you’ll get flashbacks of Ramunap Ruins. I like this deck.

Apprentice Red

Salvador Barboza, 2nd place at the SCG Classic Dallas

The biggest downside of the post-rotation Ramunap Red deck was the lack of a good 2-power 1-drop. Inventor’s Apprentice, supported by Scrapheap Scrounger, was a good solution, but it always brought mana base issues. I tried a deck like this for Pro Tour Ixalan, but the artifact count and the mana base were big issues.

The artifact count is still an issue—I’m not convinced that 11 artifacts is enough to support Inventor’s Apprentice, so I would suggest cutting 2 Shock for 2 Aethersphere Harvester—but the mana base advantage of Mono-Red has greatly diminished. Back then, I either had to accept an inconsistent Dragonskull Summit or an unreliable Ramunap Ruins. Now, you can have an untapped Dragonskull Summit at nearly no cost to your mana base. This turns Scrapheap Scrounger into a nearly-free splash, which is appealing when it enables a good 1-drop.

Pirate Red

Frank Karsten, 1st place at Eating Delicious Pancakes

Inventor’s Apprentice is only one of the two ways to get a 2-power 1-drop in a red aggro deck. Daring Buccaneer is the other. In this build, all creatures apart from Hazoret are Pirates, turning Unclaimed Territory into the perfect mana fixer. I haven’t been able to properly test and tune this list, but I still see the potential.

One downside of this approach is that you can’t run Bomat Courier. Or, well, you can, but Bomat Courier gets worse when you can’t follow it up with Earthshaker Khenra and/or Ahn-Crop Crasher, and it doesn’t synergize with the black 2-drop Pirates, so I think you’re better off with Rigging Runner instead.

Mardu Vehicles

Keelan Snider, 4th place at the SCG Classic Dallas

Mardu Vehicles is a well-known archetype that hasn’t undergone sweeping changes in recent months. One thing that surprised me was that among last week’s deck lists I wasn’t able to find a Mardu Vehicles version with Inventor’s Apprentice. But 3 or 4 copies of that card certainly belong. To me, it’s madness to play a Hazoret the Fervent deck without running all the good 1-drops. I probably would cut 2 Shock, 1 Bomat Courier, and 1 Veteran Motorist to make room. And if I do add all these red 1-drops, then I might also cut 1 Canyon Slough or 1 Spire of Industry for an Unclaimed Territory or another turn-1 red source.

Splashing is worth it!

In conclusion, without Deserts, splashing in Ramunap… er, Mono-Red, becomes worth it. Whether it’s with Inspiring Vantages or with Dragonskull Summits, the increase in card quality is now worth the small mana base sacrifice.

Which red deck would I recommend right now? I think all of them have potential, but if I had to make a choice for an event tomorrow, then I’d pick Mardu Vehicles. It has the best 1-drop in Toolcraft Exemplar, it is resilient to sweepers because of Heart of Kiran and Scrapheap Scrounger, and it has access to Unlicensed Disintegration as a powerful removal spell. It simply has the most powerful cards overall, and we know how to build the deck.

Finally, don’t forget that Samuel Ihlendeldt made Top 4 at Pro Tour Ixalan with an Inventor’s Apprentice version of Mardu Vehicles that didn’t lose any key cards. Sure, his list had a 1-of Ramunap Ruins and some Rampaging Ferocidons in the sideboard, but Mardu Vehicles never relied as heavily on these cards as Ramunap Red.

What’s your favorite red aggro deck in the new Standard?


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